The Adventures of Baron Munchausen  

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This page The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is part of the fantasy series.Illustration: Screenshot from A Trip to the Moon (1902) Georges Méliès
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This page The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is part of the fantasy series.
Illustration: Screenshot from A Trip to the Moon (1902) Georges Méliès

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a 1988 British adventure fantasy comedy film co-written and directed by Terry Gilliam, starring John Neville, Sarah Polley, Eric Idle, Jonathan Pryce, Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman and Robin Williams (credited as Ray D. Tutto).

Based on the outrageous tall tales that the 18th-century German nobleman Baron Münchhausen was alleged to have told about his wartime exploits against the Ottoman Empire, the film was well received by critics but was nonetheless a box office bomb.

Plot

The film begins in an unnamed war-torn European city in the late 18th century (dubbed "The Age of Reason" in an opening caption), where, amidst explosions and gunfire from a large Turkish army outside the city gates, a fanciful touring stage production of Baron Münchhausen's life and adventures is taking place. Backstage, city official "The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson" reinforces the city's commitment to reason (here meaning uniformity and unexceptionality) by ordering the execution of a soldier (Sting in a cameo) who had just accomplished a near-superhuman feat of bravery, claiming that his bravery is demoralizing to other soldiers. Not far into the play, an elderly man claiming to be the real Baron interrupts the show, protesting its many inaccuracies. Over the complaints of the audience, the theatre company and Jackson, the "real" Baron gains the house's attention and narrates through flashback an account of one of his adventures, of a life-or-death wager with the Grand Turk, where the younger Baron's life is saved only by his amazing luck plus the assistance of his remarkable associates: Berthold, the world's fastest runner; Adolphus, a rifleman with superhuman eyesight; Gustavus, who possesses extraordinary hearing, and sufficient lung power to knock down an army by exhaling; and the fantastically strong Albrecht.

When gunfire disrupts the elderly Baron's story, the importance of saving the city eclipses the show. The Baron wanders backstage intending to die, until the exuberantly enthusiastic questioning of Sally Salt, the young daughter of the theater company's leader, persuades him to remain living. Insisting that he alone can save the city, the Baron escapes the city's walls in a hot air balloon constructed of women's underwear, accompanied by Sally as a stowaway. The balloon expedition proceeds to the Moon, where the Baron, rejuvenated by the escape, finds his old associate Berthold, but angers the King of the Moon, who resents the Baron for his romantic past with the Queen of the Moon. A bungled escape from the Moon brings the trio back to (and beneath) the Earth, where the Roman God Vulcan hosts his guests with courtesy and Albrecht is found. The Baron and Vulcan's wife, the Goddess Venus, attempt a romantic interlude by waltzing in air, but this cuts short the hospitality and Vulcan expels the foursome from his kingdom into the South Seas.

Swallowed by an enormous sea creature, the travelers locate Gustavus, Adolphus, and the Baron's trusty horse Bucephalus. The Baron (who again appears elderly after being "expelled from a state of bliss", in his words) struggles with the conflicting goals of heroism and a peaceful death, before deciding to escape by blowing "a modicum of snuff" out into the sea creature's cavernous interior, which causes the sea creature to "sneeze" the heroes out through its whale-like blowhole. Back ashore, the Turkish army is located but the Baron's associates are now too elderly and tired to fight the Turk as in the old days. The Baron lectures them firmly but to no avail, and he storms off intending to surrender to the Turk and to Jackson; his cohorts rally to save both the Baron and the city. During the city's celebratory parade, the Baron is shot dead by Jackson. An emotional public funeral takes place, but the denouement reveals that this is merely the final scene of yet another story the Baron is telling to the same theater-goers who were attending the theater in the beginning of the film. The Baron calls the foregoing "only one of the many occasions on which I met my death" and closes his tale by saying "everyone who had a talent for it lived happily ever after."

An ambiguous finale reveals that the city has indeed been saved, even though the events of the battle apparently occurred in a story rather than the film's reality. The Baron rides off on Bucephalus. As the Baron and Bucephalus are bathed in the light of the sun parting through the clouds, they apparently disappear, and the credits roll over a triumphant blast of music.

Cast




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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